Legendary Kestner remains master of his game
By John Kim. PGA.com Coordinating Producer
SUNRIVER, Ore. -- Darrell Kestner might not be a household name to all golf fans, but to those in the industry, he's a near legend. Kestner, the PGA Director of Golf at Deepdale Golf Club in Manhasset, N.Y., opened with a 1-over 73 while playing in a steady rain for much of the day and on the more-difficult Crosswater Club course. Kestner smiled after the round, saying he was pleased with the score under tough conditions and amid a last minute technique change.
"I felt very good about it," Kestner said of his opening round. "I went left-hand low, have not putted cross-handed all year, but last night (at the Champions Dinner), the guys reminded me that when I set the scoring record in this championship (Kestner won the 1996 PGA Professional National Championship), I switched to left-hand low during the event. So I decided last night to give it a try, see if it might spark a little history."
Kestner's unconventional game management may not be perfect advice for all golfers, but no one can argue the incredible playing record of the West Virginia native.
Kestner, in addition to playing 22 PGA Professional National Championships and winning one, has competed in 17 major championships including 11 PGA Championships, made a number of starts on the Champions Tour, won a slew of regional and section events and won the 2004 and 2005 Senior PGA Player of the Year Awards.
Amazingly, he’s has played in a major championship in five seperate decades. (His first was the 1979 U.S. Open, his last was the 2012 PGA Championship.) Most player bios in the official players' guide for this event take up a paragraph. Kestner's player bio takes up a full page and a half.
But playing at an elite level is only part of the Darrell Kestner story.
Kestner has long been respected for how he manages a course and staff, mentors young professionals and has been cited as a top instructor in the country by many media publications. Former assistants to Kestner include defending PGA Professional National Champion Matt Dobyns and current PGA Teacher of the Year Michael Breed.
Dobyns expressed gratitude toward Kestner at the annual Champions Dinner Friday night, saying simply, “I would not be here if not for Darrell Kestner and his wife Margie.”
“It’s no coincidence that so many of his former assistants have ended up in the great places that we have,” explains Michael Breed, host of the Golf Channel’s 'The Golf Fix' and Director of the Michael Breed Golf Academy at Manhattan Woods. “There is not a better example of leading by example than Darrell Kestner. He always has an ear for you if you need, always a word or phrase to encourage you when you need it. He loves golf, he loves helping others learn and love golf. Here’s a great example. This week, in a national championship, he has a kid named Tristan caddying for him. Tristan has never been on a golf course before. Darrell, wanting him to learn and enjoy the game, has him on the bag while teaching him basics of golf like 'par' and 'chip shot.' Who does that? Darrell Kestner does that. That’s who he is. It’s amazing.”
With typical humility, Kestner shared his thoughts on what he sees as his role in developing future golf leaders.
"Along the way, I've learned from me being an assistant pro at some of the best mentors. I watched and learned from the likes of Nelson Long, Bob Watson Tom Neiporte, the list goes on and on. And I hope those who work with me learn in the way I learned from them,” he said. “You kind of lead by example, you want to do the right thing. People should see how you handle things and how you carry yourself. Be polite and nice, have a good work ethic – it's not that hard."
Kestner does not dwell on his accomplishments or the accolades from others – either as a player or any other role he has played in golf.
"I have so many great memories in golf," he explains. "I've enjoyed everything in the game. It's not about where I am or where I end up, for me, it's about enjoying the journey to get there."
And he's certainly he's doing that at Sunriver through 18 holes.
"It's a great golf course, it's a beautiful venue, and I'm out here enjoying myself. I have my wife here with me and the head pro and staff back home tell me that things are running great at the golf shop so I'm just out here having a great time."
But a great time will mean being pleased with his game. He will continue to smile and have fun, but he's here to compete and he will continue to press to do better – just as he always has.
"You love to be a good teacher, you love to be a good merchandiser, good administrator, run a beautiful golf shop – but we're in this business because you love the game of golf,” he said. “And if you love golf, you want to play better. And so you give the extra effort to stay sharp, to learn and improve."